Double-Barreled Question

Read this article, which defines the double-barreled question fallacy and identifies examples of it.

Double-barreled Question

A double-barreled question (or double-direct question) is an informal fallacy. It is committed when someone asks a question that touches upon more than one issue, yet allows only for one answer. This can result in inaccuracies in the attitudes being measured for the question, since the respondent can answer only one of the two questions, and cannot indicate which question they are answering.

Double-barreled questions often include the grammatical conjunction "and" in them. This is not a foolproof test, since the word "and" can exist in properly-constructed questions.

A question asking about three items is known as "triple (or treble)-barreled." In legal proceedings, a double-barreled question is called a compound question.


An example of a double-barreled question is:

"Do you think that students should have more classes about history and culture?"

This question asks about two different issues: "do you think that students should have more classes about history" and "do you think that students should have more classes about culture?" Combining both questions into one makes it unclear what is being measured. Since each question may elicit a different response when asked separately, the respondent can become confused. In other words, while some respondents would answer "yes" to both and some "no" to both, some would like to answer both "yes and no".

Other examples of double-barreled questions:

    • Please agree or disagree with the following statement: Cars should be faster and safer.
    • How satisfied are you with your pay and job conditions?
    • How often and how much time do you spend on each visit to a hospital?
    • Does your department have a special recruitment policy for men and women?
    • Do you think that there is a good market for the product and that it will sell well?
    • Should the government spend less money on the military and more on education?
    • Is this tool interesting and useful?

The same considerations apply to questions with fixed choice answers, as an answer can also be double-barreled. For example, if a question asks, "What motivates you to work?" an answer "Pleasant work and nice co-workers" is double-barreled.

The speaker may be trying to flatter or convince their recipient with a double-barreled question. They hope the person who receives the question, who may want to answer "yes" to the first question, will respond positively to the second part of the question with the same "yes". For example, "Would you be a nice guy and lend me five dollars?"

Some questions may not be double-barreled, but confusingly similar enough to a double-barreled question to result in similar issues. For example, the question "should the organization reduce paperwork required of employees by hiring more administrators?" can be interpreted as composed of two questions: "Should the organization reduce paperwork required of employees?" and "Should the organization hire more administrators?"

Politicians and media professionals sometimes ask double-barreled questions, which result in notable skewed media reports and research pieces. For example, the Harris Poll used double-barreled questions in the 1980s, when investigating U.S. public opinion on United States–Libyian relations, and American attitudes toward Mikhail Gorbachev.

Using Double-barelled Questions during Legal Trials

During a legal trial, attorneys often raise objections when an opposing attorney asks their clients compound questions. They complain that the witness may be unable to provide a clear answer to the inquiry.

One guide to trial practice offers the following example of a compound question:

Cross-examiner: As you approached the intersection, did you look down, change the radio station, and then look up and notice the oncoming car for the first time?

Opponent: Objection, compound question.

An example in practice has been cited in the case of Weise v. Rainville (1959) 173 CA2d 496, 506, where the objection to such a question was sustained because such a question "raises the danger that the witness does not intend to reply to both questions" when answering "yes" to the compound question.

It may also be unclear to the court, jurors, or appellate bodies, what the witness intended during their response. This question could combine a request for relevant information with a request for irrelevant or inadmissable information. The opposing attorney may decide not object if the question does not harm their case. However, the opposing attorney may object, and specify during their objection that the question should be rephrased into separate, non-compound parts.

Compound questions are most frequently asked during cross-examination.

Source: Wikipedia,
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Last modified: Friday, May 14, 2021, 11:41 AM